Conflict and Development: Where is Conflict Concentrated in South Asia?

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ImageAfter Iraq, South Asia is the second most violent place on earth. Conflict has increased in South Asia during the last decade. Where is conflict concentrated? What can be done about it?

Conflict is a very broad term, which is often defined differently in different contexts and data sets. We can, however, consider two broad classes of conflict. The first category includes conflict against the State. Examples of this include civil war or terrorism, which is an extreme manifestation of conflict, and it reflects a certain degree of organization of conflict. It is carried out by a relatively organized group of non-state actors, and directed against the State. Some researchers choose to focus on terrorism as a measure of conflict, because it has implications for the overall stability of the state itself, and therefore its ability to implement any developmental policy. The second category includes people-to-people conflict, rather than directed against the State. Examples of this include localized land conflicts, religious riots, homicides or other crimes. They too have adverse implications for development, but are probably less severe, compared to terrorism.

South Asia suffers from both types of conflicts—conflicts against the State, and people-to-people conflict. However, they are evolving differently in the region--one is on the rise, and the other is declining. In India, people-to-people conflicts (homicides, riots) have been trending downwards over the past decade. This is in sharp contrast to terrorist incidents which have increased.

Is there a relationship between conflict and development? Figure 1 plots the relationship between conflict and per capita income for a group of developing and developed countries. The vertical axis shows the number of people killed in terrorist incidents (normalized by population) as a measure of conflict. The horizontal axis plots real GDP per capita. It shows a downward sloping relationship. This suggests that high conflict rates are associated in countries that have low per capita income. One cannot infer anything on causality from this plot. What is striking in the figure is that most South Asian countries (except Bangladesh) have much higher conflict rates for their income levels.


A negative relationship between per capita income and conflict rates would also suggest that violence should be much higher in poor regions within countries. This is exactly what we find in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. We find that conflict is concentrated in the lagging regions, which have a per capita income below the national average.

The lagging regions in Pakistan (Balochistan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA], and North-West Frontier Province [NWFP]), India (Maoist insurgency in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Orissa), Sri Lanka (North-decreased significantly since the end of the war), and Nepal have attracted global attention because of the high level of conflict. Afghanistan has had a civil war for the last 30 years. Lagging regions have experienced more than three times the number of terrorist incidents per capita, compared with leading regions, and almost twice as many deaths per capita in such incidents.

Conflicts can be triggered by internal deficiencies in development and governance (a lower economic opportunity cost of rebellion in poor areas, unequal distribution in gains from development, political marginalization) or external shocks (economic shocks, calamities, and war). These deficiencies are concentrated in the lagging regions. Leading regions too have conflict, but they manage it better, because of rapid growth, job creation, and better institutions and safety net programs. The adverse consequences of conflict are more severe in regions that have weak institutions, poor geography, and are poorly integrated with markets. These are also the characteristics that limit their pace of growth and poverty reduction in lagging regions.

In the next blog, we will discuss what can be done to reduce conflict in logging regions. Can something be done?

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